FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Those Pesky "Urban Intellectuals"

by MIKE MARQUSEE

Tony Blair has dismissed opposition to his Iraq policy as the province of “urban intellectuals”. A strange comment from the Prime Minister of one of the most urbanised societies on earth. But then he also managed to ignore the latest opinion poll showing that 57% of his electorate want to see British troops out of Iraq.

Back in 1970, Spiro Agnew, then vice-president of the United States, disparaged anti-Vietnam War activists as “effete intellectuals”. Within three years of that jibe a bribery scandal forced Agnew to resign in disgrace. His master, Richard Nixon, followed soon after, covered in Watergate sludge.

Nixon and Agnew were leftists compared to the current occupants of the White House, so from a historical perspective it’s extraordinary that Bush’s staunchest global ally should be a Labour prime minister. As the US satirist Michael Moore put it to British audiences, “We’re dumb. What’s your excuse?”

There’s undoubtedly a personal element in Downing Street’s warmth for Washington. Blair’s unblushing reversals and evasions are underpinned not only by opportunism and a Nixon-like contempt for truth-telling, but also by conservative convictions and what appears to be a deep rooted reverence for the rich. There’s also an evident incapacity to grasp the consequences of his decisions for others. A recently published memoir by a former employee depicts his childish excitement when he first ordered UK troops into combat in 1998, when in league with Bill Clinton he waged a brief but lethal aerial war against Iraq.

But it would be wrong to think that Blair is alone. He has been served ardently by his cabinet, only one member of which, the late Robin Cook, resigned over Iraq. Given the scale of popular opposition to the invasion, not to mention the starkness of the moral and political choice, Cook’s isolation was remarkable certainly without precedent in the history of Labour governments. But then the vast majority of Labour MPs have put aside their initial disquiet over the invasion and now share Blair’s eagerness to see the political agenda “move on”. Disgust with the Iraq war is widespread among the diminishing ranks of Labour party members (200,000 50% – lost since 1997), but the cumulative effect of the changes imposed on the party since the defeat of the miners’ strike of 1984-85 has been to sever the organisation from its social roots and seal off access to elite decision-making.

Although he claims otherwise, Blair has also been well served by the BBC and much of the mainstream media. Lord Hutton’s inquiry into the circumstances of the suicide of Dr David Kelly, released in early 2004, exonerated Blair’s coterie while heavily criticising the BBC. The upshot was that the BBC was punished for reporting, accurately, that Blair’s office had exaggerated the evidence on Saddam Hussein’s WMD in order to secure parliamentary and public support for war. Though the Hutton report was widely derided as a whitewash, it succeeded in intimidating the BBC, whose coverage of Iraq since then has been lamentable. Civilian casualties of US-British military actions are rarely noted although they account for five times the number of deaths as car bombs and other Iraqi-on-Iraqi violence. Last year’s bombardment and siege of Fallujah, in which thousands may have died, was reported exclusively from outside the city limits, by journalists embedded with US forces. The recent air and ground assault on Tal Afur, in which hundreds are reported to have died, was ignored.

Preoccupied with suicide bombers and the Sunni-Shia divide, the BBC rarely refers to Shia opposition to the occupation, or indeed to civil and political opposition in general. Anyone restricted to BBC coverage will be unaware that more than one third of the members of the Iraqi assembly elected in January have called for prompt withdrawal of foreign forces. Voices arguing for an end to the occupation, Iraqi or British, are largely excluded, though tests of opinion indicate that this is a majority view in both countries.

Again, it’s not just the BBC. In its coverage of recent events in Basra, The Observer, a venerable liberal weekly, referred to “the kidnapping of two British SAS troopers”. Surely that should read “the arrest by Iraqi police of two British troopers disguised as Arabs and in possession of an arsenal of high powered weapons and sophisticated surveillance equipment”. The British army’s response to the detention of these two men whose mission remains, at the moment, unexplained was to attack and destroy an Iraqi police compound with tanks, armoured vehicles and helicopters. Civilians then surrounded the British and hurled petrol bombs at them. The British replied with fire killing an unknown number of “rioters”.

Many in Britain have comforted themselves with the thought that at least we’re not as bad as the Americans. It’s been assumed that in southern Iraq the sophisticated British had cleverly avoided the kind of hostility that confronts the cowboy Americans elsewhere in the country. Again, on-the-ground reportage from the British zone of occupation has been scanty in the extreme. So the recent Basra events have come as a shock. But the myth of British restraint is not the only one to have been exploded by these events. The bigger casualty is the myth of Iraqi sovereignty.

Here the British public has to grapple with the core injustice of US-UK policy the military occupation of a foreign country, against the will of its people, and in pursuit of a thinly veiled colonial project. The London-Washington axis is a function of much more than the Blair-Bush romance. The linkage between the two governments and their corporate sectors class has been comprehensive since World War II, at the end of which the US inherited the UK’s empire, most crucially its oil-rich west Asian branch.

Sneering at intellectuals’ is a tried and tested piece of political vaudeville, entirely in keeping with Blair’s philistine elitism. Ironically, a substantial proportion of the British intelligentsia support him, if not on the wisdom of the invasion certainly on the commitment to keeping British troops in Iraq for the foreseeable future. Increasing numbers of “non-intellectuals” here and in the USA disagree. Blair’s problem, then, isn’t “urban intellectuals”, it’s the reality of the war in Iraq.

MIKE MARQUSEE is the author of Wicked Messenger: Dylan in the 1960s and Redemption Song: Muhammed Ali and the Sixties. He can be reach through his website: www.mikemarqusee.com

This column originally ran in The Hindu.

 

 

 

 

 

 

CLARIFICATION

ALEXANDER COCKBURN, JEFFREY ST CLAIR, BECKY GRANT AND THE INSTITUTE FOR THE ADVANCEMENT OF JOURNALISTIC CLARITY, COUNTERPUNCH

We published an article entitled “A Saudiless Arabia” by Wayne Madsen dated October 22, 2002 (the “Article”), on the website of the Institute for the Advancement of Journalistic Clarity, CounterPunch, www.counterpunch.org (the “Website”).

Although it was not our intention, counsel for Mohammed Hussein Al Amoudi has advised us the Article suggests, or could be read as suggesting, that Mr Al Amoudi has funded, supported, or is in some way associated with, the terrorist activities of Osama bin Laden and the Al Qaeda terrorist network.

We do not have any evidence connecting Mr Al Amoudi with terrorism.

As a result of an exchange of communications with Mr Al Amoudi’s lawyers, we have removed the Article from the Website.

We are pleased to clarify the position.

August 17, 2005

 

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

Weekend Edition
January 20, 2017
Friday - Sunday
Paul Street
Divide and Rule: Class, Hate, and the 2016 Election
Andrew Levine
When Was America Great?
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: This Ain’t a Dream No More, It’s the Real Thing
Yoav Litvin
Making Israel Greater Again: Justice for Palestinians in the Age of Trump
Linda Pentz Gunter
Nuclear Fiddling While the Planet Burns
Ruth Fowler
Standing With Standing Rock: Of Pipelines and Protests
David Green
Why Trump Won: the 50 Percenters Have Spoken
Dave Lindorff
Imagining a Sanders Presidency Beginning on Jan. 20
Pete Dolack
Eight People Own as Much as Half the World
Roger Harris
Too Many People in the World: Names Named
Steve Horn
Under Tillerson, Exxon Maintained Ties with Saudi Arabia, Despite Dismal Human Rights Record
John Berger
The Nature of Mass Demonstrations
Stephen Zielinski
It’s the End of the World as We Know It
David Swanson
Six Things We Should Do Better As Everything Gets Worse
Alci Rengifo
Trump Rex: Ancient Rome’s Shadow Over the Oval Office
Brian Cloughley
What Money Can Buy: the Quiet British-Israeli Scandal
Mel Gurtov
Donald Trump’s Lies And Team Trump’s Headaches
Kent Paterson
Mexico’s Great Winter of Discontent
Norman Solomon
Trump, the Democrats and the Logan Act
David Macaray
Attention, Feminists
Yves Engler
Demanding More From Our Media
James A Haught
Religious Madness in Ulster
Dean Baker
The Economics of the Affordable Care Act
Patrick Bond
Tripping Up Trumpism Through Global Boycott Divestment Sanctions
Robert Fisk
How a Trump Presidency Could Have Been Avoided
Robert Fantina
Trump: What Changes and What Remains the Same
David Rosen
Globalization vs. Empire: Can Trump Contain the Growing Split?
Elliot Sperber
Dystopia
Dan Bacher
New CA Carbon Trading Legislation Answers Big Oil’s Call to Continue Business As Usual
Wayne Clark
A Reset Button for Political America
Chris Welzenbach
“The Death Ship:” An Allegory for Today’s World
Uri Avnery
Being There
Peter Lee
The Deep State and the Sex Tape: Martin Luther King, J. Edgar Hoover, and Thurgood Marshall
Patrick Hiller
Guns Against Grizzlies at Schools or Peace Education as Resistance?
Randy Shields
The Devil’s Real Estate Dictionary
Ron Jacobs
Singing the Body Electric Across Time
Ann Garrison
Fifty-five Years After Lumumba’s Assassination, Congolese See No Relief
Christopher Brauchli
Swing Low Alabama
Dr. Juan Gómez-Quiñones
La Realidad: the Realities of Anti-Mexicanism
Jon Hochschartner
The Five Least Animal-Friendly Senate Democrats
Pauline Murphy
Fighting Fascism: the Irish at the Battle of Cordoba
Susan Block
#GoBonobos in 2017: Happy Year of the Cock!
Louis Proyect
Is Our Future That of “Sense8” or “Mr. Robot”?
Charles R. Larson
Review: Robert Coover’s “Huck out West”
David Yearsley
Manchester-by-the-Sea and the Present Catastrophe
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail